How to Talk to Your Children about Sex: The Language We Use
If you are following this series, you know that we have been talking about sex for quite a while now. We are passionate about helping you navigate this fragile topic with your child. We’ve explored when to begin and continue teaching your children about sex. We’ve also talked about the importance of developing your own beliefs before you begin teaching your children. This week, we are diving into how to talk about sex by looking at the language we use. I know there are many feeling stirred in these delicate conversations. As a parent, maybe you are feeling embarrassed, fearful, and awkward when opening up the dialogue. You want to say the right thing and protect your child’s mind. Meanwhile, your child may be feeling confused, uncomfortable, and curious. He wants to know more, but may be afraid to ask or even know what to ask. Either way, no one in the conversation is feeling indifferent. Feelings are stirred, and these feelings make it difficult to speak clearly and openly.
If our goal is to help our children more clearly understand sex, how can we use helpful language that contributes to this goal in the midst of our uncomfortable feelings?
Use Correct Terminology for Body Parts
As we talked about in our last post, our children become curious about their various body parts beginning at a young age. As they begin to explore, we have a choice as parents. We can use cute terms and phrases to explain their bodies, or we can teach them the proper terms. I completely understand the temptation to use words like “wee-wee” or “flower” for our child’s genital areas – we are offering protection to our children, and we are protecting ourselves from further uncomfortable conversations. However, when we set our child’s foundation in those terms, we give them an unclear understanding of themselves and their bodies.
I would submit that the best way to set a firm foundation is to teach children about each body part with clarity – the vagina, the vulva, the penis, the testicles. Instead of isolating the genital areas as 'different' or 'secret,' we treat them as normal, necessary parts of our body. When you see most developmentally appropriate, begin teaching not only the names of their body parts but also the purpose and function. In doing so, we accomplish a couple of necessary things:
- We normalize our child’s body parts – every one of them. We teach them that just as an elbow is an elbow, a penis is a penis. In doing so, we do not diminish the value of a penis or exalt it above the rest of their body. We put it in its proper place as a necessary and useful aspect of our bodies.
- We show them that all aspects of their bodies are good and not shameful. In using secretive words and phrases, we run the risk of instilling shame and sinfulness in their genital areas. We may create a foundation of thinking that these body parts are wrong – and even hinder our child’s body image and worth. As parents, we do not want to be agents of shame; we want to instill worth and beauty and goodness in our child’s body.
- We give our child accurate information. There is something really beautiful about your child learning anatomy originally from you, and not a textbook or a friend or a teacher. You get to grow your child in knowledge of the way that God created a body. In doing so, your child has valuable information that they won’t need to relearn later when they are ‘ready’ for the correct terms. You leave no room for ambiguity.
Clearly Explain Sex
As your child gets older, questions move from merely body parts to the process of sexual encounters. It is tempting, again, to use generic phrases and analogies to explain things like ejaculation and orgasms. I am not submitting that you go beyond what you know your child is emotionally, spiritually, and mentally able to process. However, in accurately teaching our children about sex as these conversations arise, we diminish the mystery and curiosity surrounding it. We give them a clear understanding of the way that God designed sex. We set a foundation for them to build on – instead of the many other sources pining for their attention.
I understand the fear that discussing these topics with your child could lead to an onset of early sexual behaviors. However, I would argue that BY sharing openly and clearly, you are setting an accurate foundation while eliminating the secrecy involved. In doing so, we are more able to encourage and promote boundaries rather than dismiss them. We can clearly communicate the goodness of sex and the purpose of protecting that goodness.
Overall, the language we use when speaking of sex has the power to confuse, disrupt, and negate our child or the power to prepare, enrich, and empower them in their understanding of themselves and sex.